Friday, August 17, 2012

Facebook & Suicide Prevention

By Joe Sullivan, Chief Security Officer, Facebook, Inc., Action Alliance Executive Committee member, and co-lead of the Public Awareness and Education Task Force

For many people the topic of suicide is hard to open up to others about. For some it brings up feelings unspoken, and for others memories unwelcome. But the more you learn about the topic, the more you appreciate the power of communication in reducing the likelihood of suicide. Communication builds emotional connections, exposes risks, leads to understanding, and gives opportunities for intervention.

Years ago, the employees at a fledgling Facebook discovered the power of communication as a means of intervention, when young people using the service started writing in to our customer support team to report when a friend had posted a status update that could be interpreted as a sign of suicide risk. Confronted with this new type of intentional or unintentional cry for help, we realized that we needed to do two things—to engage with the expert community to learn how to best address these situations, and to use the power of Facebook itself to mobilize friends and counselors to communicate with the at risk person.

Fortunately, the suicide prevention community embraced working with the Facebook team, establishing strong relationships that have helped us mature in our handling of these situations. One key partnership has been our participation in the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention. I’m proud to be a co-lead of the Public Awareness and Education Task Force. We fully support the Action Alliance vision of a world free from the tragic experience of suicide, and truly benefit from the rich blend of public and private resources the Action Alliance brings to bear. The Action Alliance has shown that partnership driven solutions can offer the best help in the places where it is needed most and helped us expand our network as widely as possible to make assistance available to everyone who expresses need on our site. Through this network, we have partnered with over 25 different suicide prevention agencies across the world to provide help to all our users, using resources appropriate for wherever they may be.

With the help of these partners, we have built a number of online solutions:

· We started by working with the Action Alliance, Lifeline, and the National Council for Suicide Prevention to create content for our Help Center to help the people who use our service identify those in distress and give them the help they need. Because there is no substitute for the care and concern of a person’s friends and family, we wanted to provide the advice necessary to help this natural support network recognize and respond to risk factors.

· We built on that by creating a robust reporting structure. To help those users who may be in distress we have Report links all over the site. When you click Report you can message your friend directly using our Social Reporting tool or you can report the content to Facebook to be reviewed by our Safety Team.

· And most importantly, using dedicated staffing and relationships with organizations such as Lifeline, we have done our best to pair the user with trained suicide prevention counselors. Initially that was through email connections, but recently we implemented a new solution that has worked even better. Since December last year, those users (in the United States) in distress receive a message from Facebook containing a link to begin a confidential chat session with a crisis worker from Lifeline. We rolled out this feature in partnership with the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention and Surgeon General Dr. Regina Benjamin.

· Building on these positive experiences, we have worked with the National Council for Suicide Prevention and SAMSHA to bring together (twice so far) a working group with other leading internet companies to build out a set of joint best practices.

We’re proud and humbled by the role we have been able to play in this team effort, and grateful to the Action Alliance for its important role in our growth. We look forward to the future of this relationship because together we can stop suicide by helping people find the courage to speak up whenever they see the signs a friend or family member is in distress.